Cross-border seed trade hits limeligh

The Daily Star, December 23, 2013
Formalising rice seed trading between the two countries would ensure the availability

Bilateral cooperation on cross-boarder exchange of rice seeds will benefit both Bangladesh and India significantly because of their similarities in agro-climate conditions, said a study. “Increased cooperation will help millions of farmers to have more access to better quality seeds at a cheaper price,” said Mahfuz Kabir, coauthor of the study — Bangladesh-India rice seeds trade: trends, issues and policy perspective.

There is a persistent demand and supply gap in rice seeds in Bangladesh hovering around 180,890 tonnes to 189,415 tonnes in last several years, he said. In India, the situation is reverse. In 2013, there is a surplus of 42,572 tonnes of rice seeds in four eastern Indian states — Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal.“This gap can potentially be filled by export of Indian rice seeds of both hybrid and high yielding varieties,” said Kabir, also senior research fellow of Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies.

He spoke at an international conference on “addressing barriers to rice seeds trade between India and Bangladesh” co-organised by CUTS International and Unnayan Shamannay at BRAC Centre Inn in the city yesterday.CUTS International and Unnayan Shamannay, two development organisations of India and Bangladesh, conducted the study with support from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The findings of the study were shared at the conference. At present, the demand and supply gap of rice seeds in Bangladesh is being partly filled by import of hybrid seeds from China.

Bangladesh has around 65 varieties of HYV rice; many of these such as BR-11, BRRI Dhan-28 and BRRI Dhan-29 are found to be popular in Indian states. Indian varieties Miniket, Swarna, Sampa and Parija are found popular in border and other regions of Bangladesh. Although India is a net seed exporting country, Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal are seed deficit and are characterised by lower level of seed replacement rate compared to that of Bangladesh.

Anecdotal evidences suggest that there is informal rice seeds trade occurring at the border points between India and Bangladesh. The generalised trade barriers and trade facilitation recommendations for Bangladesh and India are applicable for rice seed trade also, the study said. Trading barriers have been reported to be more rigid and greater in number from Indian side. Bangladesh imports a wide array of products from India through formal and informal processes. From Bangladesh side, there are minimal trade barriers. But in case of India, due to their federal government system, facilitating trade requires much longer time and many forms of documents and authorisation and certification from a number of bodies, according to the study.

The issue of harmonisation of seed standards and certification is critical for both Bangladesh and India, especially for addressing the issue of food security and climate change, it said. “The potential of seed trading between Bangladesh and India is immense,” said Swapan Kumar Datta, deputy director general (crop sciences) of India Council of Agricultural Research. Informal bilateral trade in rice seeds is on the rise as there might have been some technical barriers to seed trading between the two countries, he said. Mahabub Hossain, executive director of BRAC, said although high yield varieties can increase production by 10-15 percent, their product quality is not good. As a result, farmers often get low prices for their produce.

Syed AKM Asadul Amin, general secretary of Bangladesh Seed Association, said the quality of seeds relies primarily on adaptability and productivity and secondly on cost. Currently, China meets more than 90 percent of Bangladesh’s import demand for rice seeds. India’s exports to Bangladesh remain negligible, accounting for less than 3 percent of its total exports. In Bangladesh, more than 100 private companies are involved in seed production and around 5,000 dealers are operational across the country. Also there are thousands of contract farmers engaged in seed production. Bangladesh’s seed market is worth around $261 million.

Khondkar Ibrahim Khaled, a former chairman of Bangladesh Krishi Bank, and Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of Centre for Policy Dialogue, also spoke.

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